Law Enforcement

Claim: Notorious Cop Broke His Own Leg While Abusing a Deaf Man

Photo by Michael Roberts/Idaho Springs Police Department
A look at downtown Idaho Springs and the booking photo of former police officer Nicholas Hanning.
Nicholas Hanning is no longer a member of the Idaho Springs Police Department; he was fired in July and faces a third-degree assault charge over the rough arrest of 75-year-old Michael Clark back in May. But he could still cost the City of Idaho Springs money — plenty of it. A lawsuit is pending in the Clark incident, and a new complaint has been filed over the controversial bust of Brady Mistic in 2019.

In the lawsuit, Hanning and fellow Idaho Springs Police Officer Ellie Summers, who's also a defendant in the Clark case and remains employed by the department, are accused of "the shocking use of unnecessary police force and wrongful incarceration of a deaf man whom the Defendant officers rashly attacked after failing to recognize his disability and misinterpreting his non-threatening attempts to see and communicate as challenges to police authority."

In a bizarre side note, the suit claims that Hanning handled Mistic in such a brutal manner that the officer broke his own leg during the arrest, after which he "falsely charged the deaf man with assault on a police officer in an illusory attempt to cover up their misconduct — which caused the man to unjustifiably spend months in jail without appropriate accommodations to help him communicate that he was, in fact, the victim."

At the time of the episode, Summers was wearing a body-worn camera. But the only footage given to attorney Raymond Bryant of the Denver-based Civil Rights Litigation Group, who represents Mistic, is from the hospital where his client was taken after the arrest. "We have not been provided any explanation for why Summers's body cam did not record the force," Bryant stresses.

According to the lawsuit, Mistic is "completely deaf in both ears" and "primarily uses American Sign Language to communicate," but "is unable to lip-read and can vocalize few words. As a result, it is necessary for him to use writing to communicate with persons who do not know ASL. The little speech he is able to vocalize is thick and heavy in a manner common to deaf persons in the community."

On the evening of September 17, 2019, two years to the day before the lawsuit was filed, Mistic stopped by an Idaho Springs laundromat. After he parked, he was approached by Hanning and Summers, who were in a police vehicle located about a block away; they said that Mistic had run a stop sign.

As Mistic exited his car, he was "blinded by police vehicle lights and/or a spotlight shone by the officers," the suit says, and even though he had no idea what was happening, he raised his hands in a show of compliance. But within seconds, Hanning "went hands-on with Mr. Mistic, without any warning or attempt to communicate. ... Defendant Hanning grabbed Mr. Mistic’s sweatshirt and threw him to the ground, bashing Mr. Mistic’s head into the concrete."

Summers, who was in training at the time, then allegedly jolted Mistic with a blast from her taser, and after he cried out "No ears" in an attempt to communicate his condition, she "tased Mr. Mistic a second time."

The suit contends that Hanning and Summers "knew or should have known by Mr. Mistic’s lack of speech, hand gestures, and/or thick-tongued articulation of the words 'no ears' that he was deaf and could not hear or understand the officers." But "neither officer, at any point, attempted to secure an ASL interpreter, provide a pad and paper, or otherwise provide Mr. Mistic the means to be able to communicate."

At no time did Mistic "threaten, physically harm or fight with the officers," the suit continues, and he didn't "flee or attempt to flee from the scene." But he was arrested on suspicion of second-degree assault on a police officer and resisting arrest, presumably because "at some time in the process of rushing up to Mr. Mistic, grabbing him, and throwing him to the ground, Defendant Hanning realized that he had caused himself to break his own leg/ankle."

Here's the body-worn camera footage from the hospital where Mistic was taken:
After he left the hospital, Mistic was incarcerated for more than three months; according to the complaint; during that time, he repeatedly attempted to inform jail staff by way of the so-called kiting system that "he was deaf, that he could not use the inmate telephone phone system, that he needed an interpreter to communicate, and that he needed some kind of technological and/or service assistance to use the inmate telephone system for communication with family, friends, his attorney and/or a bail bondsman," but to no avail.

As a result, the suit contends, "Mr. Mistic suffered significant damages including loss of liberty, emotional distress, physical injury, scarring, monetary harm, indignity, and humiliation as well as being deprived of means to communicate and otherwise being discriminated against due to his disability." He also lost his car and "had to hire an attorney to defend himself against the unfounded charges levied against him."

The Idaho Springs Police Department statement about the incident is unexpectedly detailed. "Officers from the Idaho Springs Police Department performed a traffic stop on a vehicle in the 1300 block of Idaho Street for a stop sign violation at approximately 1937 hours," it says of the incident on September 17, 2019. "The driver, Brady Mistic, immediately got out of his vehicle and quickly approached a clearly marked patrol car with the emergency lights activated. The officers gave verbal commands for Mr. Mistic to get back in his vehicle. It was later determined Mr. Mistic was deaf, but this fact was not known to the officers during the initial encounter."

The statement continues: "Officers then directed Mr. Mistic to sit down. At one point officers attempted to gain control of Mr. Mistic by placing him into handcuffs due to his unexplained actions. Mr. Mistic resisted the officers, and a physical altercation took place. One of the ISPD officers was injured (broken leg) due to the resistive actions of Mr. Mistic." After being cleared at the hospital, he was "transported to the Clear Creek County Detention Facility where the officers charged him with Assault on a First Responder, Obstructing a Peace Officer, and Resisting Arrest."

The matter "was reviewed by former Chief Christian Malanka and the officers’ actions were deemed to be appropriate. The District Attorney’s Office for the 5th Judicial District ultimately allowed Mr. Mistic to participate in a Diversion Program in lieu of formal charges being filed."

The statement doesn't mention how long Mistic spent in jail before this deal was struck.

In addition to Hanning and Summers, the suit also names the City of Idaho Springs and the Clear Creek County board of commissioners. Click to read Brady Mistic v. Nicholas Hanning, et al.